Monday, 23 January 2017

Throwing one's Hat into the Ring

IndiBlogger Badge

This was the year 1981.Around sixty five of us joined Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Ltd, Bhadravathi as management trainees. Most were engineers; a few of us were inducted for HR (personnel as it was known then) and materials (purchase) departments. After six months of training we were posted for 'on the job training' to our respective departments. I was assigned to the management development wing that catered to matters pertaining to executives. On reporting, the senior personnel manager welcomed me and assured of all support for a successful induction and career in the company.

After about a month of my reporting, boss invited me to come to his residence in the township at around 6 PM. He did not give any details about the reason for this unexpected invitation. When I reached there, I was surprised to see lot of goodies spread out in the drawing room that included sweets, savouries and fruits. Fifteen minutes later, another management trainee also turned up. Boss greeted us and introduced us to a gentleman who was in the house, as his brother. He then said that he had some urgent work and slipped out of the house, telling us to talk to his brother.

The brother timidly informed that he was an insurance agent based out of Mangalore. It was clear from his body language that the gentleman resembled boss only in appearance and that he did not possess his confidence. He suggested to both of us a particular sum assured and a 25 year coverage. I looked at a table he was carrying and said that  I wanted a lesser sum assured with a 15 years coverage. The agent protested feebly but did not make efforts to convince me of the advantages of his proposal. As for us, we were novices who hardly knew anything about what this was all about- What is the need, importance or advantage of taking an insurance policy. In 1981, the general awareness was even poorer than it is now about insurance. The person got us to sign on some forms and we departed. Boss had not yet returned.

A few days later when I received the policy by post, I noticed that the term of the policy was for a period of 25 years and not for 15 years that I had requested. Further, the sum assured mentioned in the document was also higher than what I had indicated. As a young man, my ego was hurt. "How could this person alter conditions contrary to what was discussed? If this could be done to an educated person what would he the plight of the uneducated? “These were the thoughts running in my mind.I could not even approach the agent immediately as I was in Bhadravati while he was living in Mangalore.

I went immediately to the cabin of the boss. As the legal manager was also with him, I said that I would come later. However boss insisted that I speak. So I vented out all my unhappiness about the way the matter was handled. He told me "You speak to my brother over phone." Those days it was not easy to speak to people over the phone, more so from small towns like Bhadravathi which hardly had one or two public STD booths situated far away from the township. Further the agent could easily avoid my call if he wanted to. So I told boss that I did not know his brother at all at a personal level and that the only reason I had taken a policy from him was because of his relationship with him. Therefore he should sort out the matter. Although taken aback by my response he smiled and said "let me see".

What I did not know then was that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I had ruffled the feathers of a very senior person in the hierarchy. I learnt later that the legal manager who was in the room had jacked up the emotions of the boss. “How can a mere management trainee who has just joined the company speak to you like that?” He is said to have asked and urged him to teach me a lesson on "respecting seniors". Soon I began to get pinpricks at work and was later transferred to a mine owned by the company in Bhadigund, 25 kms awayfrom Bhadravathi town.

This posting was usually given to the junior most officer in HR. I was posted although another management trainee was junior to me, as he had joined the company after my date of joining. Contrary to my original terms of appointment, I received a letter stating that I need to pass an exam in Kannada with class 4 syllabus in three months’ time. It was clear that this move was more to intimidate me than anything else. First of all this was a tough ask for someone from another state with no exposure to the language and even if I were to take lessons and work hard, I felt the results of the test was sort of predetermined.

It was later when I was visiting a relative who had a lot more experience of life that he advised me not to agonize over the policy. Even if you did not  like the way the agent handled this, it is always advantageous to start early when premiums are low and the longer and higher the coverage the better it is! If the man who sold the policy had educated me properly, I would not have spoilt relationship with an influential boss and be languishing in a mine with a prospect of writing an exam that I was most likely to fail!

After six months into my assignment at Bhadigund limestone mines, I was on a weekend visit to Bhadravathi, when a friend, an engineer who had joined like me as a management trainee, asked me why I was ruining my career by fighting with the powerful over a trivial issue. He advised me to make up with boss. I said that that I had objected on a matter of principle. Anyway, he may refuse to see me even if I were to go and meet him. The friend suggested writing a letter. Therefore, I wrote a letter drawing attention to the good relationship that we had earlier and the support he had given me and that I regretted how our relations had sunk to such a low over a trivial issue.

 The letter enabled me to wriggle out of a tough situation. However, my animosity to the concept of insurance and those connected with insurance remained. Therefore, for the next fifteen to sixteen years I kept a safe distance. It was after many years in 1998 when the matter of tax savings came up while working in another company, that an agent approached me and explained about the concepts of insurance. He was shocked that I was woefully short of adequate coverage. However, by then I had already touched the age of forty, which meant that very high premium had to be paid for the same sum assured that would have been very low if taken at a young age.

Cut to December 2016. I am standing at a tea shop in Koramangala, Bangalore sipping tea. I hear a friendly   voice asking the tea maker to make some great tea- “should be as good as it was yesterday!” I turned around to look at the speaker and we smiled. He told me that his name was Krishna Prasad (KP to friends) and that he worked for Max life insurance as associate partner (sales).He asked me what I was doing. I told him that after over three decades of service in HR in public and private sector companies, I was now facilitating corporate training programs representing my own company Niche Learning Services. I said that I also devote time to blogging and sharing corporate experiences with MBA students.

He immediately asked me whether I would be interested in becoming a financial advisor (read agent) for his company. I smiled and said that it was not my cup of tea as I was not from a sales background. He said that Maxlife gives a lot of importance to training and that apart from becoming an advisor I could get opportunities for training as well. All the persons engaged as advisors have to undergo a week’s training on insurance as a career and pass a mandatory examination conducted by IRDA (Insurance regulation and development authority).

“My office is just around the corner. Why don’t you come in so that I can give you a better picture?”  As I had nothing urgent to do at that time, I went along to the office. KP explained that insurance has come a long way since the time it was a monopoly with operations by only one insurance company. Today there are 23 companies operating in India and seven year old Max India is a leading company in the private sector,which is a joint venture between Max Financial Services (72%) and Mitsui Sumitomo, a 120-year-old company based in Japan. When I shared my early negative experience with insurance, KP said that there is no way that Max could do business like that. “In fact, our focus is on educating customers on their needs of protecting oneself from the impacts of  an early death, living too long and erosion of the value of money over a period of time.”

I told KP that at this stage of my life and career, I have my own focus areas to which recently spirituality has been added and it is now on the top of the list. Therefore, presently my first priority is spirituality, followed by training and blogging. KP said that the focus of Max is also on educating the customers so that they can take their own decisions on securing their future. According to him, it is a noble profession that is next only to the doctor’s profession.

Many people are unaware about the benefits of various types of insurance. It is the only product in the world that provides you money when you are there (Maturity value); money when you need it most ( Partial withdrawals during emergencies) and money when you are not there( Life cover benefiting your beloved family in your absence) “We don’t chase customers. We only seek 45 minutes of customers’ time to educate them on wise financial planning so that they and their families can have the desired lifestyle throughout their lives. After our education, it is for the customer to decide whether to buy the policy and if yes, which one as per his specific needs” I was very impressed with the genuineness and clarity of the company's and  KP’s mission. Yet At that time, in view of the priorities mentioned, I politely declined the offer.

Come 1st January, and the new year, KP called to wish me. He requested me to review my decision. He said that I could venture into the field without compromising on my present priorities and that this role primarily envisages educating people and can in fact complement what I am already doing. As one interested in learning, taking up the seven-day course would certainly enhance my knowledge in one more discipline. If not anything else, I can educate the  readers of my blog on the various aspects of securing one’s life at various stages of a  lifetime. KP has promised to be the expert for answering readers’ queries in the financial blogs.

A decision has finally been made. Given my unpleasant experience very early in life,who would have thought that one day I would also throw my hat into  the ring…. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

inspiring life story - Humble beginnings to great success

We come across many stories of ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary success, in spite of a humble background and limited resources and opportunities. I have been thinking for some time that these personalities need to be interviewed and their stories documented so that they inspire others to reach great heights. Such stories break the myth that people do well in life only if they are from a privileged background in terms of wealth, influence or both.

 It was when I attended the evening meeting of Indian society for training and development (ISTD) at Bangalore in October 2016 that I met Mr C.M. Aswathappa, who  was a faculty with the Vemana Institute of technology, Bangalore after his retirement as DGM (Training and Development from Bosch in June 2016. As I interacted with him, I realized that his achievements were remarkable. He had served the same company (originally known by the name MICO) for 41 years and in the same department of vocational centre for 33 years.

His first tryst with the company was as a three year Machinist trainee in February 1975. He successfully completed the trade apprenticeship training winning the silver medal. All the subsequent qualifications were acquired while serving in the company. This included Diploma in mechanical engineering, BE(Mechanical), MS (Manufacturing) from BITS, Pilani and two scores of certificate courses!

Later when I met Mr Aswathappa once again for the interview, the scale of his achievement was even more evident. He was featured in the special issue of the India Today magazine dated 19th October 2009 as one of the 40 drivers of the Indian growth machine. The feature which covered diverse fields like steel, infrastructure, IT and shipyards/ ports etc. also interviewed among others Mr E, Sridharan of DMRC, Mr Krish Gopalakrishnan of Infosys, Mr Madhavan Nair of ISRO,Mr Manish Satharval of Team Lease and others identified as the drivers of growth machine.

 Some of the prized possessions of Mr Aswathappa include pictures with the former president of India, Dr Abdul Kalam. As HOD of the training centre, he had the privilege of explaining the skill development activities to him  when Dr Kalam visited the Bosch Vocational centre on 1st June 2011. However, one document closest to his heart is a certificate jointly signed by his teachers/ Gurus over the years at the vocational centre who have described him therein as " a jolly person, cheerful personality, great teacher and simple human being,"

These are the responses to the simple questions that I, Rajeev Moothedath (RM) put to C.M.Aswathappa (CMA).

RM: Could you tell us something about your early childhood and background?

CMA: My father was a farmer. I was born in a small village Cheemanahalli, Sidlaghatta taluk,in Chickballapura district of Karnataka. The initial schooling up to class 4, was in the Government school in my village which was followed by middle and high school at the taluk headquarters. For my ITI, I moved to Bangalore.

RM: Coming from a village to the city, what were your early challenges?

CMA: Not being able to speak English or comprehend the language fully, was a big problem for me. I used to avoid associating with or being part of a group of fellow students who were convent educated and used to speak in English! Some classmates used to tease me “You have got cent percent marks in Maths and Drawing; yet don’t know where MG road and Brigade road is in Bangalore…

RM: So how did you address this challenge?

CMA:  I began to feel the pressure and limitation of not knowing English when I started working as instructor at the vocational training centre. I enrolled myself for a 60 hour English learning program with two hours’ class in a day.

RM: What were the other challenges during the period?

CMA:  Preparation of lesson plans and taking classes continuously for two and half hours was a major challenge. I used to stand in front of a mirror and practice for hours.

RM: You owe a lot to your organization MICO- BOSCH?

CMA: Yes, a lot! When I joined after completing apprentice training I was posted to the maintenance department as operator. It was my good fortune that my first supervisor saw potential in me.  “You are very good in design and drawing. Why are you wasting your time here?”, he asked. He commended me to higher levels and I was awaiting a vacancy in design & drawing department. In the meanwhile, an internal recruitment vacancy was announced for an instructor in the vocational training centre. I applied, got the job and did not look back ever since.

At the Vocational centre also, I had supervisors and colleagues who taught me from the scratch and helped me to acclimatize to the new role. One trainer took me under his wings like a younger brother while another treated me as his son.

RM: What other support did your company give you?

CMA: I have grown from the level of an operator to that of a DGM in the company. All my qualifications after joining the company, be it diploma, BE, MS (Manufacturing management) and certificate courses were done with the financial support from the company.

 RM: You have served in the same department of the same organization for over three decades. What is your feeling about the landmark?

 CMA: I am happy that a lot of developmental activities could be done in the training centre. Our quality training assured medals every year in the All India Skill competitions. At our Bosch centre we run 7 out of the 15 trades that are eligible for being awarded gold medals. It is a matter of pride that we won gold medals for all the 7 trades twice during my tenure at the centre.
 I have the satisfaction of having trained young technicians who are today serving not only in Bangalore (most), but also in Orrisa, Rajasthan, Sydney, Melbourne, UK and Sanfrancisco.

RM: Do you keep in touch with your apprentices?

CMA: Yes, with a few of them and this has been possible because of the initiative from their side. Many trainees are working in Bosch itself. Few others working in Bangalore keep in touch as also does a person working in Sydney. I received a surprise letter after many years from a trainee working for Capgemini in USA.
RM: In your long tenure in the department, how many generations of employees would you have trained?
CMA: I have the satisfaction of having trained two generations of employees, both father and son.

RM: Finally, could you tell us about your family?

CMA: we have one son, Ashwin who also started his career as an apprentice at the Bosch training centre. He is married and I am now a grandfather.

RM: I am a little surprised to hear that. One would have thought that as a son of a person who has achieved a lot in spite of difficult circumstances, you would have given a better education to your son.

CMA: Well, he studied in a convent school. After schooling I was prepared to put him in any course and support him up to any level of higher studies. But he was very clear in the mind that he wanted to do ITI. He is quite intelligent and competent in his work. In fact, initially I even had him meet a career counselor who after a long discussion with him, advised me to leave him alone and let him follow a path that he is interested and passionate about.
 When I suggested to my son that he take up engineering, he said "Daddy, if everyone became engineers, who will do the work on the shop floor?"

Well, I had no more questions to ask this achiever who has lived a life of continuous improvement. He is as much proud of his humble background as he is of his achievements. Interestingly he did not take a rigid stand when it came to his son's freedom to choose his own vocation and is also proud of his technical competence. It is my hope that stories like these will inspire many more Aswathappas to have dreams and chase them till they succeed....